The human body is a machine that requires regular fuel. Food gives us the basic nutrients and vitamins we need to survive and provide our bodies with this fuel. Naturally, food quality is important in qualifying a healthy diet, but a healthy diet goes beyond just losing weight, it is also one that promotes the health of your gastrointestinal tract.
What is the gastrointestinal tract?
The gastrointestinal tract, also known as the GI tract, contains all the organs in the digestive system. It takes in, processes, and expels food, extracting nutritional value along the way. The GI tract is a large and very sophisticated system, but it is often under-appreciated just how impressive it is, and just how important it is to our wellbeing it is to make sure the system is running optimally.
The GI tract is approximately 9 meters long, but its true length is even greater as the tract contains plenty of muscle which is in a semi-tense state. If fully relaxed, the tract would be even longer. This large system contains trillions of microbes, carry out a range of functions from helping to digest carbohydrates, to bolstering the immune system. This vast collection of gut bacteria is referred to as Microbiota or Gut Flora.
The healthy functioning of the Gut Flora is crucial to protecting a person’s health. Gut Flora plays an important role in the Immune system, secreting compounds called Cytokines. Cytokines prevent the growth of and kill unwanted organisms in the system. Cytokines are also responsible for our body’s inflammatory response. Inflammation, while unpleasant, is one of the ways our Immune system tries to protect us against cell damage and repair tissue. A Healthy Gut Flora even regulates the production of antibodies by the immune system.
How should you take care of the GI tract?
The vast microbiota of the GI tract is influenced by what we eat and can be either boosted or damaged by our food. Thus, a healthy diet must support the GI tract with probiotics, and prebiotics. Let’s start with prebiotics. Prebiotics are compounds in our food that initiate or boost microorganism growth in our microbiota, this leads to a strengthened gut flora which improves some of the aspects we have already mentioned, such as immune response and digestion. Some foods are better than others for prebiotics, and foods such as apples, onions, garlic, bananas, and oats are rich sources of prebiotics.
Like prebiotics, probiotics also strengthen the gut flora, and therefore the GI tract, but in a different way. Unlike prebiotics, probiotics are living bacteria that supplement and strengthen our gut flora, they are defined by the World Health Organisation as "live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host".
These live ‘cultures’ can be found in a variety of fermented foods, such as kimchi, sauerkraut, and most famously, yoghurt. It can be difficult to determine exactly how many living cells are in any one tub of yoghurt as storage conditions and the time spent on the shelf can affect it, but the number can be in the millions.
Our gut health doesn’t just affect our physical health. Phrases such as ‘sick to my stomach’ or a ‘gut-wrenching’ experience aren’t just sayings. Research is beginning to show that gut health and mental health are linked, and that gut issues can be the cause or effect of psychological symptoms such as stress. In this way, the GI tract is sensitive to human emotion, and can physically respond to them.
Strong knowledge of both diet and nutrition, and how our food affects our gut organisms is therefore very important to anyone who cares for or is responsible for the diet of others. Flexebee’s Diet and Nutrition Awareness course can help you manage mealtime problems and effectively manage gut health for those under your care. The course is CPD accredited and will give learners a greater understanding of the following subject areas:
- Defining nutrition
- Variety in diet
- Nourishing the elderly
- Malnutrition and its effects
- Screening tools
This course is entry-level, and as such requires no other qualification or skills to be able to take part. By the end of this course, learners should know and understand the following:
- Describe what is meant by the term nutrition
- Understand the importance of fruit and vegetables in the diet
- Understand the challenges around nourishing the elderly
- Describe malnutrition and how it affects the body
- Describe some of the screening tools available
Take your understanding to the next level with our Food Safety training courses.